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THE IMPACT OF REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE 
ON THE FASHION INDUSTRY

raw material for cellulose based fibers

Despite being comfortable with the topic of sustainability, many feel intimidated to judge on the agricultural sector. This article shall present the concept of regenerative agriculture and its huge potential.

Words By Lisa Textor

15/03/2021

Vegan cactus leather

Where are
we at?

Many of us are seeking some sort of relief from the omnipresence of the current COVID19- pandemic in our lives.
However, critical minds may wonder whether this severe incident has exposed real fractures, having been inherent to the economic system that we pursue.
For pioneers, activists, other people and businesses working towards accelerating the inescapable transition to sustainable fashion, the concept of circular economy is not novel anymore, but has been integrated and adapted into everyone’s own personal way of a sustainable living.
Few of them think of the agricultural sector and transfer the guiding principle of circularity to it, though.

This fact does not make it less urgent to rethink (and ultimately re-do) our food system under the guidance of sustainable principles.
Finally, every person should have heard about the concept of regenerative agriculture and have no doubts that it is the more future-proof approach compared to industrialized agriculture and not just “another sustainability buzzword”.
Still, we will remain questioning it and open to progressive solutions in an ever-evolving market.

It may sound too philosophical for the scientific context that we are in, but from the moment we as humans exist, it is basically impossible for us not to create an ecological footprint and cause emission, waste or any other environmental harm. This is not supposed to be a dystopian narrative nor should it be disillusioning for anyone and prevent us from acting at all, but it is a fact that allows us to shift perspective onto what is the mission behind regenerative agriculture and regeneration in general: the focus lies on something greater than ‘giving something back’ to nature, which resembles our common idea of sustainability. Instead, all measures are taken in order to let nature take its course, help restore itself and work as indisturbedly as if we were not there. Finally, it is about mitigating the effects of human existence. The picture drawn here is intentionally strong, as it cannot be emphasized enough that we were born into the middle of a decisive point in time, an “absolutely critical moment” as Carl Sagan, a popular US-American astronomer and science writer, has powerfully pointed out when talking about sustainable community action.

natural fibers

What do regenerative agriculture and farming do?

Generally speaking, regenerative agriculture is a system built upon various farming principles and practices that prioritize soil health, biodiversity and creating carbon reservoirs whilst following a holistic agroecosystem approach. Its holistic nature also shows in considering industry-related issues like working conditions and pursuing an overall mission to resolve current and future crises, whether it is health, food or climate. What might look or sound normal to us, in fact is not: for example, monocultures, one single crop extending to acres of land beyond the visible, present a substantial problem resulting in soil exploitation and a higher risk of soil erosion. Working against this, regenerative farms refrain from using pesticides, artificial fertilizers or deep tilling. Instead, they plant a biodiverse row of crops that profit from each other’s specific characteristics, e.g. nitrogen-fixing plants like legumes. Transferred to the context of animal farming, regenerative grazing constitutes the equivalent practice. This involves rotating the cattle around the land, so it grazes evenly and prevents overgrazing and potential desertification. What is more, it leads to an increase in soil carbon deposits, water retention and biodiversity. 

Still being characterized as a progressive and advanced way of farming, it is actually more of a traditional, indigenous type of agriculture. Its ‘going back to the roots’ approach is now re-interpreted as responding to consequences of heavy industrialization and mass production. Due to a wide range of farming practices, it is likely that no regenerative farm will look like the other.

cotton

Regenerative agriculture and sustainable materials

Where does the
fashion industry
come into play?

As we have touched upon both fields in which regenerative agriculture is practiced – plant production and livestock farming – it appears obvious where the potential interest of the fashion industry lies.

Both plant fibres and animal material, such as leather or wool, can be gained by relying on regenerative farming practices.

It does not initially require a restriction in the product market and presents an overall appealing alternative to conventional agriculture.

Even for sustainable fashion businesses already doing their part, taking the next wave of sustainable fashion is both necessary and a challenge, considering that for decades we have lost an initially balanced relationship with a piece of clothing, it essentially being the result of using byproducts of food cultivation.

To create no more environmental harm which could be avoided, we must mitigate environmental impact at the beginning of the supply chain, the raw material level, since it accounts for the vast majority of it.

Who needs to go first?

Nevertheless, it is both a precondition and a consequence that consumer behaviour needs to change and adapt further. In order to realize the full, enormous potential of regenerative agriculture (and this goes for many other progressive concepts responsive to existing crises), each and everyone should re-evaluate what is doable for them in terms of integrating sustainable action into their lives.

It is crucial that we do not put the question “Who needs to go first?” at the centre of the discussion and, instead, examine how we can best synchronize the behaviour of consumers and businesses, not to forget states. Last but not least, an agenda following the ultimate goal of restoration will probably demand the most from us.